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December 11, 2003



I totally agree with you the disposition of the listeners/readers is crucial. The soil on which the seed falls varies greatly. I'm sometimes puzzled by confusion over the seemingly clear phrases like, "This is my Body" and "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church. Whatever you hold bound...". My forgetfulness of the equally clear "love your enemies" and "do good to those who hate you" should help.

Words are fragile things and I wonder how persuasive they are unattached to actions, pictures, etc...Guess it depends what the definiton of "is" is.

Tom Mohan

Several weeks back you caught me missing your point and posting something off the mark as a result. I think your writing is spledid and clear. I speed read these blogs and sometimes answer without thinking. The thread below demonstrates I have many comrades in this habit. Maybe I'll change.

Steve Mattson

Amy, you are exactly right. We need to speak the beautiful truth of the Gospel in ways that others can hear. The point is not proving (to ourselves or others who have their orthodoxy meters set to highest sensitivity) that we are right, but faithfully conveying the complexity and relevance of the truth to those who are asking real (and difficult) questions about the Gospel we proclaim.

In this regard, I think that Han Urs von Balthasar has a few choice comments that might be relevant to this discussion:

Anyone who wants to survive in this world must know languages. And whoever wants to be well versed in the intellectual world must have a command of its ‘languages’: the languages of thought and concepts that change from culture to culture, age to age. Catholics who feel a responsibility for preserving intact the deposit of faith dare not shirk their duty here; they especially of all people must make the strenuous effort it takes to learn the languages of the spirit, and not least the ‘modern languages’. If they do not, they will only be able to gesticulate and shrug their shoulders if one of their contemporaries should ask the way, perhaps because the only language they know is ‘Medieval-ese’.(Theology of Karl Barth, p. 12)

Aggiornamento does not mean assimilating oneself to the atheist Enlightenment (to the point of declaring the autonomy of human consciousness); instead, it means being abreast of the times in order to give than Enlightenment an authentic response. (Short Primer For Unsettled Laymen, p. 127)

What Balthasar says about the Enlightenment here could as easily apply to the countless men and women, boys and girls who are mystified by what the Church teaches. The problem, as I see it, is that we are often not as concerned about preaching the Gospel as we are proving to ourselves that we have the "truth" and that others don't. We must learn, in Balthasar's words, to give authentic responses to the questions of those around us.

c matt

I am not sure we disagree. I guess I am a little confused by what you mean by "context in which we live"? Are you suggesting some teachings need to be gradually presented or softened to make them more appealable - baby steps, if you will? With something like contraception, I can see where that could lead to more confusion. I've read one theologian who teaches it is a mortal sin; I've read another who "softens" it by teaching that it is up to the individual's conscience as informed by the Church's "position" and "arguments". How does the latter approach help you by relating to your context? It seems to reinforce your error.

Or by context do you mean some of us are so theologically uninformed (meaning those of us catechised between 1968 and 1987) we really need to begin at square one, like "God said, let there be light" and go from there? In that case, I agree - I need to start over and my parents need to demand a refund from the parochial schools I attended and they paid for.



As always you are right. What frustrates me about those who complain that the average Catholic is undercatechized is the thinking that repeating the CCC verbatim with a pinch of Aquinas to people is going to solve the problem.

As a high school catechist, I am faithful to the curriculum and methods mandated by the diocese. The problem is that it does not work. It's the old read the text, lecture, create a poster, and take a multiple guess test. We treat religious ed. like it is math or history. What makes it more difficult, is that most Catholic religion texts are third rate (even the most orthodox, just take a look at the Didache series, it is unreadable).

While the students may not like the material in math or history, at least they know they have to do it to get into college and move ahead in life. By the time students get to the later part of their high school education, and they are completely up front about, religion class is their lowest priority. It does not affect their class standing nor their ability to get into the college of their choice (even CUA, ND, and other top Catholic schools).

But for some reason, most critics of Catholic religious education believe that students are vessels waiting to be filled. That is nonsense. They are pot fulls of boiling water that are in need of being cooled and emptied before you can beging to teach the complexities of the Catholic faith (it's not a basic nor simple religion to teach). These students have families, friends, experiences, etc., that are in competition with a catechists for the student and his/her religious knowledge and acceptence.

As a high school educator, I sometimes feel like Augustine's boy on the beach trying to empty the ocean one bucket at a time.

c matt

"We need to speak the beautiful truth of the Gospel in ways that others can hear"

An interesting concept. Communication, as Amy points out, depends upon two things - delivery and reception.

There are at least two approaches (not necessarily mutually exclusive):

1) Adjust delivery to meet the audience you are trying to address (the receptors). The advantage of this approach is that you have more control over delivery than you do the audience you are trying to reach. Some of the drawbacks might be distortion of the message, and difficulty in determining your receptors' context to properly adjust delivery;

2) Adjust the audience to make them more receptive to your message. Obviously, the main difficulty is you have little, if any, control over your audience. But, this is a very powerful way to convey your message accurately if you can do it. Does it work? Consider how "receptive" we are to microwave ovens, SUVs, and cell phones. Advertisers THRIVE on this kind of audience conditioning (and yes, they use the first method as well).


I think what Amy is saying is to till before you sow.

Take Lewis' _Mere Christianity_ as an example; lots of people here know it. It is clearly written to an audience that still has a pre-modern aversion to outright nihilism, knows the basic who/what/when/where/why of Christianity, and above all needs to be persuaded that Christianity is rational and true -- that it is not quaint superstition and social politeness, tea with the vicar's wife and all that. The point is, we do not have the luxury of starting where Lewis started, because his culture still paid homage to actual Christianity and taught it in school; mostly, he wrote for those people who saw Christianity as something one "grew out of".

Today's culture feeds us nihilism in our breakfast cereal, and people may understand that it is unsatisfying, but they have to be persuaded that it is irrational. Today's culture is free of most popular-culture references to Christianity (to the point that the makers of the Lord of the Rings movies can be oblivious to the symbolism therein), neuters its expression in public holidays, and suppresses it in schools. There is little "ceremonial deism" or social Christianity in the broader cultural life anymore.

Mike Petrik

As the father of a senior in Catholic high school I am very sympathetic to Mike's observations. That said, count me as one of the folks who say we are undercatechized. I do think that we ask students to run before they can crawl, let alone walk. Time and time again I see Catholic high school students introduced to theological nuances before they have mastered the fundamentals. It's the same mentality that allows some grade school teachers to discount the rules of grammar in favor of creativity or poetic licence. I'm all for poetry, but it seems to me that one must master the rules of grammar and their reasons first, before any licences should be issued. I think high school teachers have it especially hard since they are dealing with kids who are mature enough to encounter moral conundrums, but our Catholic grade schools have all too often not given them a basic frame work from which to begin a moral analysis. Basic catechesis should start early in grade school before the kids pots are filled with boiling water. Unfortunately, high school teachers religion are in a very difficult position -- tying to assist maturing young adults first encountering adult problems with little foundation to build on. And I've seen the types of texts Mike refers to, and they are awful. There is much in the Catechism that is straightforward and understandable, but you would never know it by reading many ot the texts used in Catholic schools.

Jeff Glenn

What about Holy Mass? Jesus said to eat His flesh and drink His blood; He said to re-enact His bloody sacrifice in an unbloody manner. It's the center of our Faith. Martyrs died to bring it to the unconverted; and we're not talking disaffected teens -- we're talking angry cultures that didn't hesitate to kill.

The Mass of Pope St. Pius V contains all of the Truths of our Faith -- unadulterated. Really, how many of the faithful in the history of the Church read theology, Encyclicals, etc etc? How did we learn the Faith? Holy Mass. This is how the Truth of our Faith has always been communicated, irrespective of the "audience."

I was raised in the post-conciliar Church, so I had no experience with the traditional Faith growing up. It was a serious shock to my system to discover the Mass of the Ages (a shock to see families with 8-10 kids in tow at Holy Mass!) and to discover the clarity of the Baltimore Catechism.

Please don't dismiss this view off-hand: that the innovations of Vatican II bring us where we are today -- and it is not a good place. Truth never changes: 33, 1054 AD, 1962 AD, 2003 AD, the Truth is always the same, yes? If the practice of our Faith was good in 1962, why must it be so radically different today?

I see two Churches now, and this is observable, verifiable fact:
1. The one I was raised in: where Mass could involve guitars and folk singing, where CCD is warm and fuzzy with emphasis on being a good person, where my classmates saw religion as something personal and didn't bat an eye at fornication and blasphemy, where the priest was our approachable buddy; and
2. The Church I belong to: where Mass is the Eternal Mass involving rubrics and prayers used and codified by Saints, where catechism is black and white with emphasis on the Eternal Salvation of souls, and where the priest is a special man of God with the Holy vocation of administering the Holy Sacraments.

It's sad. There are even two different Sanctoral Cycles. Christ our King said the Church would prevail, so let's find our way back to it; therein we will find Truth. Latin Mass. Pre-conciliar Catechism. Pre-conciliar rules and regulations concerning the Faith.

It's an old argument, I know, but the Truth is a timeless argument.

Henry Dieterich

At the risk of repeating myself and even being redundant, I would suggest to Mr. Glenn that there is another possibility, represented by my parish. Our Masses are not Tridentine, but the current version of the Latin rite, celebrated according to the rubrics, with no unauthorized options. We use a certain amount of Latin. There are guitars, and what you might call folk music, but the words are taken straight from Scripture and a certain number of traditional hymns mixed in. Our priests and deacons present the teaching of the Church without apology, but are more careful to present the love and mercy of God as revealed in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Personal devotion to Christ and an active practice of the faith and life of the Church are encouraged. Our children are taught about salvation history, about the sacraments, and about the moral life--not all of them grow up to be saints, but at least they know what Catholics are expected to believe. Many of them grow up to be zealous, active in pro-life causes and other Christian activities. Some have realized vocations to the priesthood or religious life. Most edifying is to see them marry and raise Catholic families of their own.

I'd agree that Catholics are undercatechized, and I'd also agree that trying to catechize them in most contexts is difficult. I agree with our hostess that context is important to one's approach. In most contexts in the Church today, I'm afraid, catechesis is not what is needed. Before they can be catechized, most Catholics in the modern world need to be evangelized. They are never going to feel much enthusiasm about Christ's Church, especially when that involves some difficult or countercultural teaching, if they do not know Christ.

The Church is always one generation away from dying out. Even if the converts are drawn from the children of those who are already in the Church, each generation must be converted. The Gospel must be proclaimed and accepted anew in each age. Christianity is not like algebra, that you can teach the willing and the unwilling. Christianity is more like an army that must be recruited one soldier at a time. For a long time we had a social context in which it was easy for this to happen, that supported it in a way one did not need to think about it. No more. When I said the teaching of the Church must be presented without compromise, I didn't mean telling people "Do this because the Church says you have to." People need to be shown a way of life that is to be followed because we are followers of Christ, and that the moral teachings of the Church come from the call to be wholly given over to Him. There are many ways of doing this, and I'm not very good at any of them. But I pray that God may raise up many good servants who will have that gift.


Hmmm, Henry...Fort Wayne to Ann Arbor. About what...3 hours? 6 hours driving on a Sunday? Nah. Probably wouldn't work.

Anyway, one thing I wanted to add to this thread is that I really think that the only way to do this is to believe that it's true. In other words, we don't try to understand context because it will "work," but because these really *are* the answers to the questions, no matter how veiled they may seem.

Rod Dreher

All this is really challenging to me as the father of a four-year-old boy. I'm realizing that I'm a big one to complain about the utter lack of catechesis, but I haven't really thought about how it was that I was converted.

I think I owe my parents, as lax as they were in the practice of their (Protestant) faith, a great debt. Mama and Daddy may not have been big churchgoers, and Mama may have sat outside reading the paper in the car while I was in Sunday School (something I used to beat her over the head with when I was a fashionably agnostic teenager), but the fact is the seeds of the Gospel were planted deep within me when I was a little boy.

I think that even that much was enough to build on. Well, that, and a teenage fling with "Late Great Planet Earth"-style fundamentalism. I was so embarrassed later on in my teen years by the year or so I spent in that mindset, but you know, I think some good came out of it. Anyway, as a young man in college and right out of it, I kept hearing the call of the Holy Spirit. I didn't want to hear it, not at all. Yet I would read books by Catholics that spoke to me. "The Seven Storey Mountain." Walker Percy's essays. Kierkegaard. They resonated deep within me, and finally the voice saying, "This is your life. Stop fighting it" became impossible to ignore.

The thing is, I never liked "church people," and churchiness. I guess I still don't, and I'm not sure why. Most expressions of piety leaves me cold. I think it's because religiosity seemed to me to be a shield against life, and the true experience of God. I felt, though, that Percy and Merton and even Kierkegaard knew something of life that lots of church people in my earlier life did not. Rightly or wrongly, I experienced church people as being afraid of life, and running from it. You couldn't say that about those men. Merton esp. got to me, because he had lived the kind of life as a young man that I was living, in a way, or at least that I aspired to live. And he saw the hollowness of it, and conveyed it to me so intimately and convincingly.

It was a personal crisis, and a very real manifestation of the supernatural, that finally broke my pride and brought me to Christ in His Church. And even then, from the very beginning, I resisted the nonsense. I went to a parish RCIA, not knowing what to expect, and all I got was "guided meditations" with Sister Stretchpants, and touchy-feely mumbo-jumbo from the priest. I got so angry at this because I had fought so hard to overcome myself to allow the Holy Spirit into my life, to find the real Christ, and the real faith. And now I was getting this bourgeois counterfeit.

I left that RCIA disgusted, and found a priest to instruct me individually. I was probably the only one, come to think of it. Father and Sister were making it so, so easy to come into the Church. They were warm and friendly ... and as empty and phony as they could be. Well, I used to think that, but now I'd say that they were not being dishonest at all; I'd say that probably really was the whole of their faith. One of the last thing I did in that RCIA before I left was meet with a priest of the diocese for one-on-one counseling, which was part of the program. He couldn't really answer my questions, as I recall; mind you, it wasn't that I was some sort of theological whiz kid, not by any remote stretch. It was just that he wasn't prepared to give any kind of answer that didn't involve a platitude. That was one of my first experiences of a priest, and I was shocked by how thick and unreflective the poor man was. But he was nice. He was very nice.

The priest I found was named Fr. Dermot Moloney, and he had pretty much been exiled to an inner-city parish, where he celebrated the Tridentine rite. I wasn't then interested in that rite, and am not now, but I knew that priest wasn't going to bullshit me. And God love him, he didn't. All the priests I've ever loved, and who have ever helped me, have been to some degree "hard men." They practiced hard charity, which started with not condescending to me. They took my questions seriously, and seemed to understand something of life's pain and its hard-won victories. They understood the value of things. I'm not articulating this well, but I guess I mean to say that they did not have a sentimental view of life. Loving, self-sacrificing men, absolutely. But they had no use for the comforting lies that we are so prone in our culture to tell ourselves, lies that lead us away from the only truth that will save us. I had been told by our culture, including religious people, that the things I did, and wanted to do, really didn't matter, because all that mattered was love. I knew that was a deadly lie, because I lived it. I knew what kind of hole I had dug for my own life with that sentimental crap. I knew what kind of Egypt God had led me out of. And I didn't want to go back.

I should stop rambling now, because I don't really have a point other than to say: we'd be better off living the Gospel and learning it and teaching it if we'd quit trying to sugarcoat everything, or freak out when people struggle with real problems. I've said on these blogs before that my wife and I practice NFP faithfully, and always have, but we've felt alone in this because most Catholics think we're crazy, and lots of those who practice NFP absolutely won't hear it talked of as anything but the greatest thing in the world, nope, no struggles here, this is easy, etc. In my experience, it's the same with a lot of the Latin Mass folks (but not all, so don't write me), who seem to think that the Tridentine rite is a magical incantation, and if we'd all just get together and say it in unison, all the pain and loss and confusion in our Catholic world would evaporate.

It's not like that, is it? One reason I love this blog so much is Amy writes with such love for and devotion to Christ and the Church, but also without sentimentality. I find that liberating.


In my experience, it's the same with a lot of the Latin Mass folks (but not all, so don't write me), who seem to think that the Tridentine rite is a magical incantation, and if we'd all just get together and say it in unison, all the pain and loss and confusion in our Catholic world would evaporate.

It's not like that, is it?

It's not like that. The ritual won't magically solve all of our problems. And I'm as frustrated as you are with those who believe it will. We have lost SO much more than a ritual. And there are enough people who use a Tridentine-style ritual who don't even come close to holding the fullness of the faith to convince me that our problem is not the Novus Ordo, but something a whole lot bigger.

Steve Mattson

In response to Rod's comments, perhaps a bit more Balthasar, this time from an essay called "The Priest I Want" in his Elucidations.

This is the first quality that the priest I am looking for would have to have; for he would have to be a priest, or at any rate he would have to have been commissioned and authorized from above, by Christ, to confront me with God's incarnate word in such a manner that I can be sure that it is not I who am making use of it; I have to know that I have not from the very outset emasculated it by psychologizing, interpreting, demythologizing it away to such an extent that it can no longer create in me what it wills. No, what I am looking for is a man who can confront me with it in such a way that I cannot escape its demands, because I meet then in concrete form of the authority of the Church which, as a serving authority, actualizes the concrete form of the divine authority. It may perhaps be that I have reached the point of being confronted with this demand. But he must also help me to stand firm, not to run away, by sitting it out with me with an unrelenting love. With a terrible love which again and again says to me, "But that is what you really want." With a love for which in one's heart of hearts one gives thanks because it cannot be replaced by anything else . . . .

The humble priest will not be tempted to offer me anything other than the word of God for me; the zealous priest will not tolerate my attempts to slide away from this word. He will make me stick to my last, and I can easily accuse him of intruding and interfering, but what intrudes and interferes in truth is only the word of God itself. If I find the one I want, then I cannot reasonably object if he behaves toward me with a confidence which is not appropriate for a man.

Balthasar provides for me (as I anticipate my future as a priest) a healthy vision for the balance of what it means to listen well to the questions of men and women (as noted in the excerpts I offered above) and (here) discerning and proclaiming God's word for those men and women. For my money, Balthasar is one theologian who can help us think productively about the complexities of the context in which we live and preach the Word.

Rod Dreher

Steve, re yr Balthasar quote, that's exactly it! That's the point I wanted to make, but wasted everybody's time with paragraphs and paragraphs of blatherskite. The point I hoped to make was that I know all too well how craftily I hid from God, and how I conformed myself to the values of the world. And I know myself well enough to know that, like everybody else, I still retain any number of strategies for evading the Lord and His will for me, and also a weak will that would rather be left alone, satisfied with who I am rather than who God calls me to be. The undertow pulling me back to Egypt is not as strong as it once was, but it's there, and always will be. I need the help of the Church to keep my eyes focused on the Promised Land and the need to get there, and the map the Lord has given us to show us the sure way. What would be deadly for me is to find myself in a situation in which a priest acts like the desert itself is the Promised Land, or even going back to Egypt, because slavery wasn't such a bad deal after all, was it?

To shift metaphors, it seems to me that living the Christian life is like walking up a down escalator. You can make slow but steady progress to the top if you keep moving forward without ceasing; but the moment you stop to rest, you lose ground, even though you're not intentionally walking backwards. I'm weak, and I need a priest and a Church standing at the top, coaching me to persevere; I can't afford a priest and a Church saying, "Relax, there's no point in wearing yourself out struggling to the top. The middle is not such a bad place to be, is it?" If I were to believe that, then without realizing what was happening to me, I'd be back at the bottom, where I started, in no time.


Same here, Rod. The priest I treasure most highly, the one who brought me into the church, was a "hard" man disliked by some parishioners. And he did have crusty qualities, like brushing you off if he was busy. But he told me after all my dithering about whether I believed everything and whether to join or not that I *shouldn't* join! "We already have enough bad Catholics," he said. "We don't need any more. Good night."
And he put his black hat on and walked into the night.
It was the beginning of my true conversion. Placed before that real choice: Yes, No - I realized how much I wanted to say Yes. Another thing he said: "You learn your faith on your knees." I had been spending hours pouring over books trying to find the answers and solve the debates in my head, but I began doing the stations of the cross instead. I took some private lessons from this priest to make up for the RCIA I had missed. I joined the church on my birthday, and it was the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.
Peace, and a blessed Advent.

Rod Dreher

"We already have enough bad Catholics," he said. "We don't need any more. Good night."

A priest after my own heart. And soul. Fr. Moloney said to me, at our first meeting, after I told him how distressed I was by the utterly doctrine-free RCIA program I'd just left, "Lad, when I get troo wit' ye, ye might not want to be a Catlick. But ye'll know what a Catlick is."

And I thought instantly: I trust this priest. He's not going to avoid the hard things I will be asked to believe and do to become a Catholic. He seems to understand how radical the Christian commitment is. For several years, I had been trying to convince myself that being a Christian was just one more thing I could add to the mix of my lifestyle and personality. I didn't really have to change; I was just adding God.

Somehow, I knew how dishonest that was, which is why I was so restless in trying on all these Christian poses. I couldn't avoid the truth that I was really looking for the psychological comfort of having God in my life, without having to change to conform myself to His ways. I wanted to get to Heaven, but I didn't want to die. The RCIA program was telling me that that was possible; Fr. Moloney, in his charity, told me that was not possible. Meeting him was a vital way station on my road to conversion.

Can you imagine if the Rich Young Man came to your average parish today and asked what it would take to be saved? What would we tell him? We'd find some attractive way to dress it up to make ourselves sound serious, but it would come down to, "Saved? You're already saved, friend. Come as you are, get comfortable with yourself, and be a part of our inclusive community. Why, it's heaven on earth here at St. Complacency's!" Etc.

That was pretty much what I was offered at the parish where I first presented myself as a catechumen. It stunk. I knew they were lying. I knew exactly what kind of man I was, and the help I needed. And I knew this priest and this parish were only going to confirm me in my Okayness, which is to say, in my sin, sloth and mediocrity. When the Lord calls a man, he bids him to come and die. All that St. Complacency's asked me to do was to hold hands with my neighbor and visualize whirled peas.

c matt


Birthday = feast of SS. Peter and Paul? That means the 29th of June (or does the feast date change yr to yr)? - Mine as well.

c matt

"All that St. Complacency's asked me to do was to hold hands with my neighbor and visualize whirled peas."

I love that !!

c matt


On teaching high schoolers.

It seems odd that we expect them to understand and study Beowulf, Shakespeare, Chaucer, molecular biology, calculus, physics, etc. but when it comes to theology, (aside from lack of interest) we suddenly treat them like fourth graders. Personally, I think the best way to catechise(ize?) is through apologetics. If we can expect them to read the Bard, why not Chesterton? Everlasting Man and Mere Christianity should be required reading of every high school student. Then add, if time permits, some of the more recent stuff from Kreeft, Wiegel and Shea. Does your diocese mandated program allow the felxibility to assign outside materials? I would think an apologetics course, even as an elective, might draw some interest. If nothing else (and this is how I might be tempted to pitch it) it should teach you how to examine a truth claim, think rationally about it, and logically defend/oppose it. Skills transferable and relevant to any field. You have no idea how utterly fumed I am about the missed opportunities for this when I was in high school.

Jeff Glenn

Mr. Dreher: Thank you for your insights -- no blatherskite there.

Catholics "who seem to think that the Tridentine rite is a magical incantation, and if we'd all just get together and say it in unison, all the pain and loss and confusion in our Catholic world would evaporate."

Not exactly the correct attitude, but if you recharacterize "magical incantation" as "the traditional Rites and Rubrics of the Saints, including the Holy Canon that reenacts the Sacrifice of Our King and makes Him present as He commanded," I'd say eviscerating pain, loss, and confusion would not be far off if that's God's will, so long as we obey. (but I think pain, loss, confusion in our Church will always be here, since we have much penance and repentance to achieve). Also,

1. It's a fine thing to come to the Church as a reasoning adult, capable of examining all issues -- liturgical, theological, philosophical and benefiting from the blessings of Catholic poetry and fiction. That said, baptised Catholics achieving the age of reason gain many particular blessings from the Traditional Latin Mass. It's difficult to think back to when I was 7, but knowing the impression the Traditional Latin Mass left on me when I first assisted, I can see how the graces conferred on children are profound. I become optimistic when I meet and think of the many children who know and pray only the Mass of Pope St. Pius V. We have our first child on the way, so I can't give personal anecdotes that could compare to those of you already blessed with little souls in your charge; but I do look forward to teaching our kids about the Saints, Heaven, Purgatory, Hell, why we abstain from meat on Fridays, why you wear a mantilla into Church, what your Brown Scapular is for, how to say the prayer to St. Michael-Leonine Prayers after Low Mass/the Angelus/morning, evening prayers/Rosary/etc., why Christ died for us -- why the representation of His Crucifed, bloodied Body hangs on a Crucifix in our house and in our Church, why you take Him on your tongue if your soul is in a state of sanctifying grace.

2. Again, I hope not too many traditional Catholics see the TLM as "magical incantation", but rather a series of prayers to God through the Saints, Our Lady, and Christ, climaxing in the unbloody Sacrifice.

Catholics are the only people that can and may claim Christ's presence.

I'd argue that if Christ is really present, then yes, "pain and loss and confusion" could evaporate if that is His will (but I think these will always remain, as we have much penance and repentance to achieve).

3. We are not praying as One Church, if some are praying a vernacular folk mass, some are praying a Novus Ordo Missae Latin Mass and others praying a TLM. The texts of key prayers in the various Masses are substantially different. We are praying very differently, and that's not good. Given the choice, then, how should we pray? I'd give serious consideration to the option practiced by the Sainted Doctors of the Church, in the universal language of the Church.

4. Mr. Dieterich: "When I said the teaching of the Church must be presented without compromise, I didn't mean telling people 'Do this because the Church says you have to.'" Is this not what it means to be Catholic? In other words, sure, there are so many ways you can explain "3 + 3 = 6", but in the end, you must say, "3 + 3 = 6."

5. I'm curious as to Fr. Moloney's and WRY's treasured priest's observations regarding Vatican II. They sound like truly holy men whom we might learn a lot from.

Thank you again for your observations, and thank you, Ms. Welborn, for catalyzing and facilitating this conversation. UIODG, Jeff

Mike Petrik

c matt,
I enthusiastically agree in concept. High schoolers love to debate, or at least argue. Apologetics would hit their sweet spot so to speak. I would only point out that calculus builds on algebra which builds on basic mathematics. All too many of our Catholic high schoolers are not taught the basics of our faith in grade school. Teaching them Catholic apologetics will be somewhat harder as a consequence.


To C Matt:

The high school students have no problem remembering what they have been assigned. They do not appropriate the material unto themselves. They can spout off the moral teaching of the Church, they just do not accept the moral teaching of the Church. Traditional apologetics is not going to get the job done in this day an age. Apologetics is pre-modern approach to education that does not work with postmodern teens (and adults).

How much effort do you think a high school student is going to put into religion class after the study of "Beowulf, Shakespeare, Chaucer, molecular biology, calculus, physics"? If your answer was zero to none, you would be correct. Sure, they may get a poor grade in religion, but, in the eyes of the student, it does not matter to their future. If religion class was treated as a blow off class in elementary school (good luck to all H.S. teachers if you had a student whose sole religious ed. was CCD), that is how they are going to treat it in high school. I teach seniors. By then, too much damage has been done for me to be able to undo.

A few students are truly interested in religion class and learning their faith. A middle group at least feign interest during the class period, and remember enough to pass the test. The majority, most are respectful in class, are quite open about their atheism - agnosticism -dabblings in paganism - hostility to all things Catholic.

Like I said above, the traditional appoach to teaching the faith to high schoolers does not work anymore. Thinking that the CCC and great authors will set high school students on the right path only demonstrates that one has not attempted to evangelize the postmodern mind. This approach will work with those students who are engaged in their faith. Those students are there, but I teach all students. And, if the parents are not practicing the faith, it makes my job much more difficult.

It seems to me that catechists are a convenient scapegoat for all the ills of Catholicism, but catechists are not the problem.

Henry Dieterich

Mr. Glenn's most recent comments sadden me because I fear he confounds friend and foe. I fear he likewise confounds rites and customs--however good--with the truths of the faith.
1. The various prayers and devotions he cites are excellent ones, but they are not on the level with the fact that Christ died for us.
2. I don't think that anyone posting to this thread (so far) considers the Tridentine Mass actually to be a "magical incantation." But anyone who thinks that this rite is any more (or less) efficacious than the Novus Ordo, or the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom for that matter, is in formal error of faith. And anyone who thinks that the restoration of the Tridentine Latin Mass will make all the problems in the Church go away, or somehow restore the faith of the modern world, is seriously mistaken. What is needed is faith in Jesus Christ and adherence to His teaching proclaimed by the Church. Maybe the Tridentine rite is a good way to proclaim this, but so is (when properly done) the new Latin Rite. So are the Byzantine, Syriac, Chaldean, and Coptic liturgies.
3. Allow me to point out that the Universal Church uses many rites in its various Churches, of which the Roman is just the largest. But in communion with the Apostolic See of Rome are other Churches, that use prayers that are even more different from the Tridentine Latin Mass than the Novus Ordo, which is, after all, a form of the Latin rite. The statement would apply even more to them. Not only do these Churches in communion with Rome have different prayers, they have different disciplines and different sanctoral cycles. For example, the Ukrainian Catholic Church ordains married men to the presbyterate, and has much stricter (and longer) periods of fasting.
4. You misunderstand. Possibly I should have said "merely because the Church says you should." But my point is that the moral teaching of the Church is not arbitrary. It is not just a cultural bias. It is founded in the deepest truth of human nature, and in the revelation of God that has its culmination in Christ. We do not follow the Ten Commandments because the Church tells us; we follow the Ten Commandments because God tells us. The Church is the custodian of divine Revelation, not its source.
5. I'm interested in yours, since a Catholic is bound to assent to the teachings of a General Council of the Church in union with the Apostolic See.

Jeff Glenn

Mr. Dieterich:

1. The Roman Rite is the precedential rite of the Church, since it's the Rite of the Holy See founded in Rome by Sts. Peter & Paul. The unbroken history of its use goes farther back than the other Western and Eastern Rites. If you wish to email me, I will point you to some references on the history of Holy Mass that I have found helpful and enlightening.

2. Christ dies for us at every Holy Mass. Assisting at Holy Mass, and eating His flesh and drinking His blood at Holy Mass, are very much on the level (equivalent and one in the same as, except in unbloody fashion) of Christ's death for us.

3. More precisely on the topic of this thread, I do not find convincing the argument that TLM does not more exactly and effectively embody our faith and teach doctrine -- whatever the context.

Holy Father making the choice available implies we may make a judgment by choosing which Mass to assist at, yes? I choose to take my family to TLM because it's the perfect, uninterrupted embodiment and teacher of Truth. I'm not sure how that puts me in "formal error".

4. When you say "yours", do you mean my "point" or my "source"? My point is what worked for the Church for 1,962 years continues to work; my "source" of divine Revelation (?) is the same as yours -- the One True Faith entrusted by Our King to the Holy Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

5. With reference to your allusion to "a General Council of the Church in union with the Apostolic See", I'll go ahead and read between the lines and respond: I and my family will stick with the traditional teachings of the Church regarding Holy Mass until the Pope and the hierarchy finally decide what Vatican II and the Novus Ordo Missae are supposed to be about.

If you wish to discuss at more length issues related to this thread, I'd be more than happy to exchange emails with you. Your friend in Faith, Jeff


Carrie wrote: "The ritual won't magically solve all of our problems. And I'm as frustrated as you are with those who believe it will. We have lost SO much more than a ritual. And there are enough people who use a Tridentine-style ritual who don't even come close to holding the fullness of the faith to convince me that our problem is not the Novus Ordo, but something a whole lot bigger."

This is something that I've been giving a lot of consideration to of late. I agree that mandating the Tridentine Rite for every Latin Rite parish will not fix everything, though I also believe that the Mass that we have is NOT the Mass that the Fathers of Vatican II intended when they voted to reform the liturgy. And I think that we have lost a lot of wonderful things in the process of this "reform" that didn't need to be lost, even if it is agreed that the rite needed reforming. I think that the Novus Ordo can be well done, but it doesn't always (or even often, depending upon where you are) work out that way. And even when the Novus Ordo is well done, I still think that a Latin High Mass is more beautiful (though I realize that may be a matter of taste). I find myself drawn to the Tridentine Rite (though I've only experienced it a few times) but I believe that is largely because it is reverent, that it is clear why I am there, and not directly related to the Mass itself but rather to the order which I've experienced the Mass through, I haven't had to worry about heterodox teaching. But I think that Carrie is right in that the problem is much bigger than the Novus Ordo. I think that what is happening in the Church, including what is happening in and with the Mass, is a symptom of the problem.

Rod Dreher

Oh, I don't have anything against the Tridentine Rite at all. On balance, I probably prefer it to the Novus Ordo, though Fr. Paul Weinberger shows how magnificent the Novus Ordo can be done if you use Latin for the most important prayers, and celebrate reverently. My beef is with the folks who seem to idolize the Rite, as if it were the magic bullet that would reverse 40 years of history. As if the destruction of the past 40 years wouldn't have happened at all had we hung on to the Tridentine Rite. I think there should be an indult everywhere, and that it is a disgrace that Catholics who want the Old Mass should be denied it. That said, I think those folks would be rather shocked to find that if the Old Mass returned to every single parish, people wouldn't be a whole lot better off spiritually or morally than they are now. The past 40 years have been among the most revolutionary in human history. Stacey is right: the chucking of the mass was not the problem, but a symptom of a much deeper crisis.


c matt,

Yep, June 29th it is. And silly me, when the priest suggested that I pick Peter or Paul as my confirmation name I balked and picked my own name. Still, I count myself lucky to have two "heavy hitters" on my side!


A thought on Vatican II.
There is a question in my mind that has to be answered: If Vatican II was really inspired how come so many bad things flowed in its wake?
Now, some of you Latin Mass types believe the whole thing was a mistake, but I firmly believe in Vatican II and I prefer the new Mass when well done to boot. So I've probably lost you right there.
Still, that question about the effects attributed to Vatican II: the decline in observance and vocations, etc.
Is it possible, I ask, that Vatican II was in some way *intended* to bring these things about? Not that God would ever intend bad to happen, but it may be that Vatican II was God's way of making the evil expose itself for what it really was.
After all, the people who instigated dissent were not the *products* of Vatican II, since they had already been formed at the time the council took place. So there must have been a rot in the church, one that simply needed fresh air to expose itself for what it was. And having exposed itself, is it again possible that God chose John Paul II to have a long pontificate aimed at bringing the church to a new level of purity?
For indeed, if anything the past 40 years have been a time when it was very convenient for anyone who had a "problem" with the church or its teachings to simply declare themselves openly. But over time I think we also see that the Church, under John Paul II, has moved continually - albeit with a pastoral approach that drives some people mad for being "too slow" - to bring the faithful into a correct relationship with God.
The pre-Vatican II era is often idealized as a golden age in which everyone was obedient. But were too many of them they obedient only? My protestant family members are always shocked at the "obedient" Catholics who come to my church - you know, the ones who are already putting on their coats and bolting for the exit as the opening strains of the dismissal hymn sound. I could explain that technically those people have a right to leave, since the "Mass is over," but it at least gives the appearance of people who want to do the bare minimum, and only the minimum. What kind of marriage would you have if you only gave the minimal commitment to your vows? My impresion - and it is only an impression - is that the pre-Vatican II Church may have stressed obedience more than love. Not that there weren't the army of faithful who were filled with devotion, people I've read commentators here speaking of, but what about the "average" Catholic?
I don't think we can "go back" because the modern mindset is that one believes what one wants to believe and that no one has the right or ability to cause someone to do otherwise. I think Vatican II recognized that, and recognized that a different approach had to apply today.


Jeff Glen,
Sorry to disappoint you, but the priest I spoke of was against the return of the Latin Mass. He believed the Mass in the vernacular was an improvement and that it was impossible at any rate to go back to the old Mass.

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